The Joys and Pitfalls of being a “Horse Show Mom”

by Caroline Maffry, with inspiration from other show moms, particularly Larissa Fain

Being a “horse show mom” is an experience like no other. Unlike the soccer moms or dance moms, being a horse show mom requires a different set of skills that a mother (or father) must be prepared to show up with and use. Once you discover what the tasks are to succeed at this job, for it is a job, a wonderful thing happens: a gift is received. A parent quickly finds that they have been presented with an opportunity to bond and create a partnership with their child. Life lessons are discovered, sometimes with ease, other times through disappointment and failure. Failure, maybe by not getting the blue ribbon, but success by learning that not every experience in life results in winning. Reflecting back, I would not trade a moment of any of these experiences– from the cheerful banter after a successful show day to the more quiet rides home from events that did not go as well as we had hoped. 

I myself have loved horses and have ridden my whole life. My daughter’s love of and passion for riding gives us a connection that we will share forever.  Having participated in many horse shows myself, I have the unique perspective of understanding what the rider is thinking and the sideline support that is needed to survive a horse show. Yet even with this knowledge, being a horse show mom requires me to view the experience from the ground rather that from the saddle.

One quickly learns how to be most supportive – chiefly by serving in the range of roles needed to guide your child through the labyrinth of showing:  scheduler, groom, confidant, hairdresser, stylist, boot polisher, cheerleader, psychologist, nutritionist, etc. Working in partnership with the coaches to reinforce their efforts to help your child overcome the “show nerves” by channeling that energy into what needs to happen to be successful; and there is one rule that must never be broken, no parents at the in-gate! This is a rule I respect, knowing that the last person the rider wants to listen to while getting instructions from their trainer is their mom.

I have learned to manage expectations – hers and mine. Watching my daughter compete is simultaneously exhilarating and nerve wracking. I know what it takes to walk into the show ring. My own mother, despite knowing that I was confident in my abilities, would say that she frankly couldn’t always watch.  (She always did though.) I find myself muttering the same thing when it is my daughter’s turn. I don’t expect her to win – it truly is about her doing her best and learning from each experience.  It gives me great joy to see how she has progressed both as a rider and person. 

A “Show Parent” needs to consider two major factors before embarking down this road.  If not anticipated and carefully planned for, these can be major obstacles. 

  • Time- The demands of showing are significant and require a major time commitment. Scheduling time to practice, prepare tack, groom the horse, travel, and then show – all around school work and other activities – is difficult. Use free time to your advantage.  We’ve squeezed many hours of study and homework into car rides to and from the stable, waiting periods between practice sessions, and mornings in hotel rooms.  A word of caution – try to avoid making outside plans on practice or show days! You tempt fate and will only add to your frustration and stress when schedules conflict. Horse shows and competitions are not timed – they move at their own pace. The best approach is to develop a routine, plan on devoting the entire day to the event, and not to worry about the clock. Your sanity – as well as your child’s – will survive!
  • Costs- Prepare to spend a lot of money. Whether you chose the local shows or the AA rated show circuit, lessons, coaching, more lessons, entry fees, horse transportation, stall costs, more lessons, medication, clothing, tack, riding clothes, hotels and more all add up. However, you can be wise about it. Buying second hand clothing and tack, sharing a horse at events, and day trips rather than overnights are just a few ways to save money. As a riding instructor myself, I sometimes work for our barn when they are attending shows or I help out with the braiding, which all helps make a dent. Most parents will have to draw a limit at some point on what is affordable and getting your child to understand what the family limits are. This is a conversation that is best to take place before the show season begins. Our trainer has goal setting sessions at the beginning of the season to help the parents and riders better understand their options.

The best advice of all that I can offer to being a successful show mom is to talk to other “Show Parents” – you’ll learn a lot!

I have included a few thoughts from fellow show moms.

Maggie’s mom:

After six years of riding lessons, my daughter just completed her first full year of horse shows. We were novices at this when the year began – we don’t own a horse and didn’t even consider leasing until very recently. Outside of a few “home stable” events, she had never competed before. In September, she began competing on two levels: as an individual and as a member of an Interscholastic Equestrian Association Team at her stable. Some shows were local and low key. Participating in horse shows can require traveling great distances, competing in all sorts of weather – sometimes under cover and sometimes outside – in snow and on sunny days.  With each show under our belt, we all learn a bit more– about each other and about how to face and meet those little challenges in riding and in life.

All this is for approximately 3 to 5 minutes in front of a judge.  Hmmm…it must be love, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world!

Jillian and Abbys’ mom:

Certainly there are joys AND challenges of being a horse show mother of two...  Mainly there are the joys - to see your daughters leap out of bed at 5am, excited to get to the show.  (Are these really the same girls that I have to call for breakfast at least three times on a school day!?)  To see your daughters work so hard at their riding in the weeks and months leading up to show and to see their work rewarded sometimes with a ribbon and sometimes with just the knowledge that - I improved - I did better today - even if it wasn't a ribbon worthy ride in the judge's eyes.  And, there are challenges, to be honest, the nerves get frayed at times (both the girls and, I confess, at times, me) and, tempers flare.  When you have two daughters showing, as a mom, your heart is always looking for equitable outcomes even when they aren't competing against each other!  But, always, we've finished show days with a smile on our faces - because above all, we really have fun these days and of course, it is a joy to spend the day having fun with your daughters and horses.